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80% of self-employed don’t want employment rights, reveals survey

Self-employed freelancers working in the UK’s gig economy are not vulnerable nor do they want employment rights forced on them by Government and HMRC. This is the stark warning issued by ContractorCalculator after it surveyed over 250 freelancers, finding that more than 80% are not interested in receiving employment rights.

“The Government must not blur the lines between vulnerable gig-economy workers and the self-employed as a whole in its attempts to bring parity to labour market regulations,” highlights ContractorCalculator CEO Dave Chaplin.

In the midst of a high profile employment tribunal involving cab hire service Uber and several of its workers, PM Theresa May has ordered an employment practices review to examine job security, pay and workers’ rights.

Do the self-employed benefit from employment rights?

But with only 7% of respondents claiming they would benefit from employment rights, any Government action needs to guarantee that it doesn’t damage the UK’s highly skilled knowledge-based freelance sector.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • 88% of freelancers don’t want maternity/paternity rights
  • 82% do not want paid sick leave
  • 85% say no to holiday rights and pay
  • 80% shun extra rights to help with grievances or disciplinary matters
  • 94% don’t want restrictions on the amount of hours they can work

The resounding objection to employment rights also signals a clear message to HMRC following the announcement of plans to set up a new unit to tackle exploitation of the self-employed.

Chaplin hopes that the survey’s conclusive findings will ensure that the UK’s freelance workforce aren’t subjected to unnecessary workers’ rights against their will:

“Whilst we acknowledge that a minority of gig-economy workers need protection from organisations that are suppressing their rights and paying them less than minimum wage, this simply isn’t the case in the mid to higher levels of freelancing.

“88% of the freelancers who completed the survey earn more than £50,000 per year, and the overwhelming majority of them have chosen to become self-employed and are happy with the status quo. Do they sound vulnerable? Let them be.”

Why don’t freelancers want employment rights?

Employment rights come at a price, and the self-employed realise this. When asked whether they would benefit from employment rights, 74% pointed out that it would compromise their IR35 tax status and complicate their tax affairs.

More than half of respondents also raised concern that the provision of such rights would both restrict their flexibility and result in lower earnings. Freelancers clearly also value their independence, with three quarters claiming they categorically do not need to rely upon rights.

“These results are not surprising,” Chaplin points out. “The Government needs to understand that the negative reports associated with self-employed couriers and drivers are woefully unrepresentative of all of the self-employed.

“There are several million self-employed businesspeople working on a business to business basis with their customers who are very happy with the way they work and the last thing they want is further legislative burdens.”

88% of self-employed do not want maternity rights

Paid maternity leave is expected to be an area of consideration for the employment practices review, and was one of the recommendations made by Julie Deane OBE in her Self-Employment Review.

But when freelancers were asked whether they themselves wanted paid maternity/paternity leave, the answer was an emphatic no, with almost nine in ten respondents claiming they do not want maternity rights.

This is in spite of the fact that a quarter of respondents either have or are planning to take an extended period of time off from work for maternity/paternity, suggesting that the majority are more than comfortable funding their own leave.

82% of freelancers do not want paid sick leave

Access to sickness pay is also likely to be heavily debated. However, the overwhelming consensus amongst ContractorCalculator’s readership is that paid sickness leave is not wanted, with more than four in five claiming they wouldn’t welcome it.

It would seem an unnecessary right for the large majority of the freelance workforce, 73% of whom claim to take two days or less as sick leave in a typical year. Fewer than 5% report taking more than a week off each year for sickness.

Freelancers are well equipped to manage their own sick leave, with 80% covering for sickness with emergency fund savings. 25% have income protection insurance in place whilst 33% have critical illness insurance.

“Beyond the fact that the self-employed are clearly a mighty fit bunch, our findings show that they are already well prepared for illness,” notes Chaplin. “They simply do not need – or want - taking care of by the state.”

Most self-employed do not want holiday pay

Self-sufficiency is a consistent theme throughout. 86% of respondents said they wouldn’t welcome paid holiday leave as a self-employed worker. When asked how they plan time off, two thirds reported that they negotiate contracts around pre-arranged holidays, whilst 31% said they fit in time off around contracts.

It seems the large majority of contractors are more than happy managing their workload. When asked if they would like to have legal limits imposed on the amount of hours they work, 94% said they can manage their own working terms.

Similarly, when asked if they would benefit from protections when managing problems with clients, four in five declined and said they are perfectly capable of handling their own affairs.

Don’t destroy the freelance sector, urges ContractorCalculator

“Whilst it is encouraging that the Government is keen to offer support to the small proportion of low-paid, oppressed workers,” believes Chaplin, “it needs to ensure it doesn’t do so to the detriment of the freelance sector.”

Under David Cameron, the small business sector was subject to a series of knee-jerk legislation and red tape. Chaplin warns May’s Government not to make the same mistakes and refrain from adopting the sticking-plaster approach that has proven so burdensome:

“The Government needs to be very careful how it decides to legislate and protect under-paid workers in the gig-economy without destroying the very valuable freelance sector that underpins the UK workforce and economy.

“It is important that we protect low-paid workers, but I would appeal to the Government to listen to what freelancers are telling them via our survey and not to ruin the freelance sector in the process. More red tape for freelancers will be sure to damage the economy and as we prepare to leave the EU, the highly skilled contingent workforce will be vital to ensuring the UK’s future prosperity.”

Published: Tuesday, 25 October 2016

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